What’s the future of virtual and augmented reality? Is it just a bunch of hype, as the Wall Street Journal suggested this week, or is this technology finally ready to make a big impact on the world?
Those were among the questions up for discussion Monday evening at a gathering of VR and AR industry leaders, hosted by GeekWire at Wild Ginger restaurant with sponsors Davis Wright Tremaine and J.P. Morgan Private Bank. In advance of the dinner conversation, we asked several attendees to tell us about the VR and AR applications and experiences they’re most excited to see in the future.
Thomas Furness, founding director of the University of Washington’s Human Interface Technology Lab, pioneer in augmented and virtual reality: Certainly what’s close to my heart is the whole educational side of it. We’ve proven over and over again the power of this technology to awaken and unlock intelligence.
It’s amazing what happens, even from the studies that we’ve done in high schools and middle schools. We’ve seen what happens when kids build their own virtual worlds, and also when they learn chemistry, electron orbitals, things like that. It’s truly amazing how the mind works. When we use our spatial memory, the retention is amazing, and that’s what we’re able to do in virtual reality. We’re able to put places into people by putting people into places.
VR from an educational standpoint is probably the biggest impact that we’ll see in the long term. The problem is there isn’t any money in education, so one of the things that I’m trying to do is to turn living rooms into classrooms. Living rooms will have more technology than any of the classrooms in our schools, when you consider the game platforms and the tablets.
Holly Hirzel, senior project manager, Envelop VR, former Microsoft HoloLens senior project manager: I’m excited for people to be able to use 3D visualization techniques to understand relationships between data or to be able to evaluate their designs in ways that they haven’t been able to do before.
So whether it’s data analysis using a 3D scatterplot or pharmaceutical design, what’s it going to be like for a person messing around with molecules to design the cancer vaccine or do any kind of research in a way that they didn’t think was going to be possible before 2050. It sounds like so much sci-fi, but you can do that now. Walking around the scene or making adjustments. You have the ability to do those things now. That’s what excites me — getting non-VR, non-game, non-movie people excited about visualizing their work. Taking it from words on a paper and numbers on an Excel chart, to visualizing.
John Vechey, co-founder of PlutoVR: The application I’m excited about, when I think about AR, and this is a very personal one, is just the ability to play board games. The ability, anywhere I am, in a bar with friends, to pop open a digital board game, be able to play and have the board game experience. I am so excited about an augmented reality future that’s just easy to do. The devices are there now to do much of that stuff, and once you get motion controllers, eventually it will just be so easy, so convenient and so accessible. I’m just excited about being able to play fun, social games with people.
The ultimate driver that I’m excited about is when Google Cardboard, Daydream and Gear VR have positional tracking and tracked input, positional hand tracking. That, to me, is the inflection point that is the most exciting for the consumer. When the industry is going to hit that point you have Vive and Oculus Touch capabilities in that mobile compute wireless system.
Meeka Charles, technology practice group at J.P. Morgan Private Bank: I find myself on a lot of conference calls, and I would love for that to be a painless and productive experience, and I think AR has the ability to make it so, by bringing everyone together, no waiting, or “who’s on the line?” None of that. You know who’s on the line, and it feels much more like a collegial environment, rather than one person leading a call.
Forest Key, co-founder and CEO of Pixvana: The things that I was doing in 2009 with my iPhone are not the apps of today. I think with VR, it’s very much that same phenomenon. What we’re seeing now, these are not the apps, and in fact the Wall Street Journal had a really negative story. It’s true that everything today feels like a demo, in the same way that the iPhone 1 was a demo. It was a sign of what was coming. What VR will become is what we’re all excited about as a community.
I’m focused on video and media. I just went to the movies twice this last week. I think that in 10 years, I will spend that time in VR, as will my family members. Media experiences will be different in VR. You have that sense of presence and empathy — a real profound sense of being there. I’m really confident that’s going to happen. It’s hard to imagine what that will look like, but it’s not hard to imagine that it will happen. It will just take a lot of things — creative professionals figuring it out, the hardware improving, various things falling into place in the ecosystem.
Kraig Baker, Davis Wright Tremaine: For me personally, the thing that I’m most excited about is the ability to project myself into places that I’ve never been or seen. Whether that is seeing the chapel in Barcelona or more importantly being able to see Pluto, or somebody doing a virtual reality experience in Chernobyl.
Being able to go in and see what Chernobyl looks like 25 years later is amazing to think about. But that ability to have that connection is so fundamental that it will change people’s experiences. When I think about my neighbors, and my relatives who live in the Midwest, and people who aren’t gamers, what’s so compelling is that ability to project oneself into this other context. It creates amazing opportunities.
Jeremy Selan, Valve: I’m excited about a thousand teams of three people each taking their shot at figuring out what (the most exciting experience) is. That’s really where it’s at, at this early stage. …
Esports are never going to be the same again with VR. Spectator mode, watching things like that, they’re never going to be the same once VR hits the masses. A lot of 2D tabletop experiences are just going to be phenomenal in VR, even though you may not expect it.
Augusta Butlin, Valve: On top of that, the social aspect. I think that not a lot of people have really tapped into how social VR is. Even though everyone can’t technically see you, they’re experiencing the same thing as you are. It’s a very real, intimate experience that you have when someone else is in the same environment as you.
Selan: The takeaway really is that it’s hard to predict. We are in a phase of experimentation. The small teams being nimble, doing a lot of testing, jumping on ideas as they see them is going to put us (as an industry) in a better place than if right now you tried to throw 200 people at a Triple-A problem, and said, make this.
Butlin: I think you’d find that project would evolve a lot over the year. Whatever you decided on as the roadmap right now probably wouldn’t be the same product.